Ten DBT Techniques for Anxiety

Anxiety can be divided into two basic areas, as first discussed by Sigmund Freud “Appropriate and Inappropriate Stress”. Anxiety can occur over situations or threats that occur and cause our brain to go into “Fight or Flight” syndrome. This is when the sympathetic or limbic system becomes aroused and creates many symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, nervous feelings, panic feeling, sweating, shortness of breath, and many other well-known symptoms. This can also occur when a situation is a real threat or we just imagine or think about something that is negative or stressful. Some stress or anxiety becomes chronic, such as having too much to do or not knowing how to do what we need to do. This can lead to chronic illness, burnout, and relationship and family problems to name a few.

Some ways to manage stress using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Techniques:

  1. The easiest thing we have to control, and that is always with us, is our breath. Learn how to do Diaphragmatic Breathing with a longer exhale. Practice when you don’t need it, so you will be able to do it when you need it.
  2. Manage the source of your anxiety and stress, learn how to use Interpersonal Effectiveness techniques to say no, or ask for what you need.
  3. Self-sooth with the five senses, some examples:
    Vision- go walk someplace beautiful and really take in the sites
    Hearing- stop and listen to nature or music
    Touch- pet your animal, or take a warm bath or shower
    Taste- eat a small treat, or flavored tea
    Smell- inhale the fresh smells of nature, or a candle, or scented lotion
  4. Monitor your sleep; get enough, but not too much, use sleep hygiene skills
  5. Practice Mindfulness on a regular basis, try shifting attention mindfully to less anxiety producing thoughts or situations. This also needs to be practiced to work well.
  6. Use Mastery. Don’t forget the things you do well that you have not been doing that create a sense of accomplishment and control.
  7. Exercise, it can really help, even a 15 minute walk daily, helps reduce stress and “clears our heads”.
  8. Engage in an activity that requires thought, such as a hobby, puzzles, word searches, reading etc.
  9. Take the focus off yourself, how can we contribute to others? Maybe a formal volunteer situation, or just doing something nice for someone in the moment.
  10. Plan and do pleasant or fun activities on a regular basis, from small things to planning for larger endeavors.

This is just a short list of things to do to manage anxiety or stress. Most techniques take just a little practice or time and you will be feeling better. I have just listed some basic information about the techniques, there are many more. DBT combines behavioral, cognitive and mindfulness techniques to help with many everyday issues as well as more difficult symptoms and problems. Consider a DBT group to really help learn the techniques and to encourage practice of them so you will have them down when you really need them.

Cathryn E. Knezevich, M.ED., LPCC
DBT IOP Director